Having been the first East Asian country to initiate industrialisation, Japan was also the first to encounter the agricultural adjustment problem. The early symptoms of it were beginning to appear in the inter-war period, as urban industry came to dominate the economy. The food supply problems of the war-time and immediate post-war periods placed renewed priority on agriculture, but once recovery had been achieved in the mid-1950s, the shift of comparative advantage away from agriculture, together with its attendant pressure on relative farm incomes, resumed with a vengeance as the economic miracle took off. In response, there was in place, by the end of the decade, the system for farm support which was to generate one of the highest levels of agricultural protection in the world.
The Japanese system for agricultural support via state intervention in rice production and marketing, generally known as the Food Control System, has been perhaps the most elaborate of the three under consideration here. It had its origins, like the others, in war-time and immediate post-war systems for rationing scarce food supplies, and its institutional mechanisms, like theirs, were in due course converted for use in the support of farm incomes. However, in the more politicised environment of Japan’s democracy, it became, more so than elsewhere, the focus of agricultural policy and the central determinant of farmers’ production activities and of consumers’ access to their ‘staple food’. In due course, it too encountered the pressures of ‘liberalisation and internationalisation’ and in some respects the process of reform began earlier and went further than elsewhere in the region. Nonetheless, the Uruguay Round negotiations, coinciding as they did with an exceptionally bad rice harvest in Japan, were equally traumatic and the acceptance of the agreement has led to the same search for the key to a viable future for the rural economy.
In what follows, therefore, the Japanese Food Control System will be set out as, in many ways, the most complete example of the methods by which the bureaucratic developmental state in East Asia has sought to deal with the